Friday, May 10, 2013

Bamidbar: Daas Soferim and random sparked thoughts

For parashat Bamidbar, let us focus on a few things from Daas Soferim, by Rav Chaim Dov Rabinowitz (1909-2001). You can read about Rabbi Rabinowitz on Wikipedia or at Dei'ah veDibur.

I've never learned through Daas Soferim, but here is how Wikipedia characterizes the work:
Rabinowitz's magnus opum (Daat Sofrim), a commentary on all of the Hebrew Bible. There are several distinguishing features to this work. The first is his courageous attempt to de-emphasize the negative aspects of ancient Jewish life that appear in the Bible. R' Rabinowitz in his role of "Defender of Israel" emphasizes that seen within the correct context, and with a proper understanding of the historical background, the negative stories are scarcely as bad as they appear. (See for example his explanation defining the differences between the story of the levite concubine at Giveah and the story of Sodom)
A second interesting feature are his (possibly the only Haredi) attempts to resolve some of the issues raised by Biblical criticism. Thus he identifies the second part of the book of Isaiah as possibly being written by a different author based on an Oral tradition from Isaiah.
Let us hook at a few of his comments on parshas Bamidbar. Of course, this won't really give us enough of a sense of the work, first because it is a small sample and second because of selection bias, in that I am choosing those bits that I find most interesting. That reflects more upon me than upon him.

Also, in terms of my interspersed comments, these are not necessarily a reflection on the underlying thought-process of Daas Soferim. My comments are more along the lines of free-association.

Reading it in Hebrew books, the form of it is as a typical Chumash, with the pesukim, Rashi, and Unkelos on each opposing page. And then, on a single page or a few pages by themselves, he writes his own commentary. This is useful because one can read the relevant pesukim and get the standard traditional commentary first.

The first comment I will highlight is regarding the keruay ha'eidah, who were appointed to perform the counting. The pasuk in the first perek of Bemidbar reads:
טז  אֵלֶּה קריאי (קְרוּאֵי) הָעֵדָה, נְשִׂיאֵי מַטּוֹת אֲבוֹתָם:  רָאשֵׁי אַלְפֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, הֵם.16 These were the elect of the congregation, the princes of the tribes of their fathers; they were the heads of the thousands of Israel.

The ketiv has a yud, as if the word were keri'ei, while the krei has keru'ei, with a shuruk. We could understand this in different ways. One is that there was no regularized spelling, such that we often find hi (meaning "her" or "she") spelled with a vav, and we see final heh even where it should make an o sound. Alternatively, this reflects a change in Biblical usage, such that the form (an adjective, but working as a passive verb, "those who were called") used to be spelled and pronounced with a chirik but now is pronounced and spelled with a vav. May of the extremely rare kal passive form discussed by Biblical Hebrew linguists? Alternatively, that there are different messages encoded in the consonantal written form and the pronounced form, e.g., callers vs. callees. See what various meforshim had to say about this issue here. For example, see Targum that they called others, rather than that they were called.

Here is what Daas Sofrim has to say about it:

"These are the קריאי of the congregation: The Torah returns and testifies that the men who were appointed for this purpose based on the say-so of God were extremely honored. They were "kri'ey ha'eida", that is, men who because of their wisdom were ready / designated at any time, so that they were ready to render advice.

There is here a krei and a ketiv. The ketiv is kri'ey and the krei is kru'ei. This is because of Zimri ben Salu, who was called here by the name Shlumiel ben Tzurishadai, for he was fit for this purpose at this time, but not based on his actions in the future. He caused the reduction of the honor of the princes of Israel."

The basis of equating Zimri with Shlumiel is that they are both designated as nasi of Shimon. See my discussion here. Thus, he handily relates the krei and ketiv switchoff with the Zimri / Shlumiel switchoff, with one explaining the other. And does it in a way consistent with Chazal, who equate the two and explain the names based on actions.

I am not sure how he is precisely defining kru'ei vs. kri'ei. Is he suggesting this is past tense vs. future tense? Or is he saying something about the name change, such that kri'ei or kru'ei means that the person is called by something other than his actual name? Or is one a lesser level of honor than the other. I admit I am left a bit confused.

Let us consider another comment by Rav Rabinowitz, on the pasuk in perek 3. First, the pesukim:

ב  וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי-אַהֲרֹן, הַבְּכֹר נָדָב, וַאֲבִיהוּא, אֶלְעָזָר וְאִיתָמָר.2 And these are the names of the sons of Aaron: Nadab the first-born, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.
ג  אֵלֶּה, שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן, הַכֹּהֲנִים, הַמְּשֻׁחִים--אֲשֶׁר-מִלֵּא יָדָם, לְכַהֵן.3 These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests that were anointed, whom he consecrated to minister in the priest's office.
ד  וַיָּמָת נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא לִפְנֵי ה בְּהַקְרִבָם אֵשׁ זָרָה לִפְנֵי ה, בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, וּבָנִים, לֹא-הָיוּ לָהֶם; וַיְכַהֵן אֶלְעָזָר וְאִיתָמָר, עַל-פְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן אֲבִיהֶם.  {פ}4 And Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD, when they offered strange fire before the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children; and Eleazar and Ithamar ministered in the priest's office in the presence of Aaron their father. {P}

How many sons did Aharon have? Only four? Consider the explosive growth of bnei Yisrael, moving in a short 210 years from seventy souls to six hundred thousand males of an age fit to head a household. Chazal said that this was because the Israelite women had six children in each birth. So why are there only four?

If I may, I will advance a position, only to provide contrast to Daas Soferim. (Though I don't know that he was reacting to this possibility.)

We can say that Aharon really had more than four sons. These other sons came along with the beit av of the other brothers for the sake of nachala. Compare to Yaakov's blessing of Ephraim and Menasheh, that these two are to be reckoned as his own sons, and any future children shall be accrued to Ephraim and Menashe.

If so, we can read pasuk 3 as stating that the four mentioned sons in pasuk 2 are specifically those sons הַמְּשֻׁחִים--אֲשֶׁר-מִלֵּא יָדָם, לְכַהֵן. But there were others. Otherwise, there is apparent repetition for no purpose. Unless it is to relate the famous personages in the genealogy to Biblical events and to point out the importance of this or that figure, which does seem to be a common approach.

Separate from this, note that the Leviim were not included in the count. The Torah explains that they are counted separately. But the overall count of the tribe of Levi is twenty-two thousand, which is much less than  other tribes. How are we to account for this?

Here is what Daas Soferim has to say:

"2. And these are the names, etc.: Aharon only had four sons. All the families of the Leviim were small. Similar to this was the family of Yitzchak [with only two sons], and even the house of Yaakov grew only because of the actions of Lavan [such that he married two wives] and the barrenness of Rachel [such that he also took Rachel and Leah's maidservants in order to have more children]. In the eminent families, they only married a single woman, and it is possible that they only married at not-a-young age because of their involvement in Torah, just as we find by Yitzchak and Yaakov. And so it appears that Hashem's blessing of the fruit of the womb has hidden rules, which drive the precise barrenness and fruitfulness. This is the portion of the select people in all generation, and see later on in 39 in the count of the Leviim."

These are good words of comfort to those who have fertility problems.

He also addresses the seeming repetition from pasuk 2 to pasuk 3, as follows:

"3. אֵלֶּה, שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן, הַכֹּהֲנִים, etc.: The first four words in this pasuk are similar to the first words in the previous pasuk. The Torah does not spare words here, wherever there is in them to establish the idea with greater clarity the lineage of the families of the Kohanim, who served in the Mikdash of Hashem for all generations. "אֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת" [with eileh rather than with a vav, that is, ve'eileh]-- the intent is to restrict and 'invalidate' all those who preceded, including Moshe and his descendants, that they not be anointed to serve as kohanim."

Note that pasuk 1 in this perek mentioned the generations of Moshe and Aharon, and in fact we never see descendants of Moshe listed later:
א  וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת אַהֲרֹן, וּמֹשֶׁה:  בְּיוֹם, דִּבֶּר ה אֶת-מֹשֶׁה--בְּהַר סִינָי.1 Now these are the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that the LORD spoke with Moses in mount Sinai.

And Rashi (/Chazal) often make a distinction between eileh and ve'eileh, and the first pasuk has the inclusive ve'eileh while this has the exclusive eileh. There is also the assumption which guides much of midrash that the Torah does not generally waste words. It is therefore a 'big deal' when the Torah repeats the story with Eliezer (because of Hashem's great love for the avos) or uses extra words to choose clean language ("that which is not tahor' rather than 'that which is tamei'). Indeed, if extra words are always just dibra Torah kilshon benei Adam, then we could not deduce anything from those extra words.

If I may propose another explanation for this "needless" repetition. The Torah was written in 'megillot', and then organized into a single unit at the end. And it quotes extra-Biblical material, such as contemporary poems (see Cheshbon, or Kayin). I suspect that genealogical scrolls existed separate from the Torah material, and this is a quote. The larger original scroll recorded the full genealogy of Moshe and Aharon, in like manner to what we find in I Divrei Hayamim 5, but with Moshe included. And it did not see fit to quote the portion about Moshe's descendants. And pasuk 3, besides being in the original source, discussing the role of the specific named people. And pasuk 4, in discussing who had children, is critical for establishing the genealogical lines.

Note that the statement that they had no children:
ד  וַיָּמָת נָדָב וַאֲבִיהוּא לִפְנֵי ה בְּהַקְרִבָם אֵשׁ זָרָה לִפְנֵי ה, בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, וּבָנִים, לֹא-הָיוּ לָהֶם; וַיְכַהֵן אֶלְעָזָר וְאִיתָמָר, עַל-פְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן אֲבִיהֶם.  {פ}4 And Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD, when they offered strange fire before the LORD, in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children; and Eleazar and Ithamar ministered in the priest's office in the presence of Aaron their father. {P}

is taken by a midrash as an explanation of their "hidden" true sin. E.g. that they refused to marry, because they were better than any candidates. On a peshat level, we are not being told their sin. The purpose of mentioning it has entirely to do with establishing genealogy.


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